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Friday, 6 November 2015

Wartime Memories in Brave Faces

Former Milford on Sea resident and author, Eve Warton has published a new book entitles Brave Faces (under the pseudonym Mary Arden). Eve will be doing a book signing at Waterstones in Lymington this Saturday (7th November) 11am to 12 noon.

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When one of Eve Warton’s granddaughters asked, “What did you do in the war, Granny?”, little did she know it would lead to a book signing 10 years later at Waterstones in Lymington – on the day before Remembrance Sunday.

Eve, now 91, first came to Lymington in 1959 to start a new life with her three young children following the death of her war hero husband Iain Robertson. She bought a house in Daniell’s Walk and ran a nursery school for the next eight years.

In 1967 Eve moved to Keyhaven where she met and married her second husband Robin Warton. The family joined the Keyhaven yacht club and spent as much time on the Solent as they could, also sailing to France and the Channel Islands. 

In 1985 they moved to Milford on Sea, and during the Falkland’s War Eve offered her nursing experience to St George’s Hospital. When she became a widow for the second time Eve moved to a small village near Salisbury to be closer to one her grandchildren. However, she often returns to the Lymington area to visit her friends.
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It was after that question about her war experience that Eve first began writing down her war memories – now published as ‘Brave Faces’ under the pen name Mary Arden.

In the book, Eve explains that when the Second World War broke out her parents were determined their daughter’s privileged upbringing should continue, and life should carry on as much as normal. She was sent to finishing school and became a debutante attending ‘coming out’ balls in London, despite nightly bombing raids.

Eve, however, wanted to do her bit for the war effort, initially volunteering as a Red Cross nurse before joining the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and embarking on a very different life –not as an officer, but as ‘other rank’.

As a junior Wren, Eve had to learn to live a very different kind of life to the one she had been brought up to expect. She was used to being chaperoned, only talking to men she had been ‘introduced’ to, so finding a suitable category for such a na├»ve girl was an almost impossible task for her senior officer.

Eve said: “I joined the WRNS in 1942 when I was 17, but unfortunately was not accepted as my initial choice, boats crew, as I was not considered strong enough. I was then tested as a driver but as I was only five foot two my legs wouldn’t reach the pedals. 

Luckily the First Officer Wren at HMS Vernon in Portsmouth, where I did my training, had just been contacted by the surgeon commander in charge of the special eye unit at HMS Daedalus in Lee-on-Solent to find a suitable girl to be trained as a night vision tester.”

She explained: “This role was perfect for me because the only qualifications required were a clear speaking voice and the ability to fend off amorous pilots when I was locked in the dark test room with eight of them at a time. Having been brought up with two noisy brothers and their rowdy friends I thought, ‘This will be easy’. It wasn’t!”

After initial training at HMS Daedalus, Eve was posted to six different naval air stations around England, Scotland and Northern Ireland as a leading Wren night vision tester. 

The many stories in Eve’s book include such accounts as the day a low-flying aircraft went past while she was cycling along a deserted road towards Lee-on-Solent and HMS Daedalus.

She wrote: “It was flying very low and the downdraft was so violent it made the leaves fall from the trees…It was almost as if the road had become the runway and it was now heading straight towards me.

“Wobbling all over the road and shaking with fear, I yelled angrily at the pilot, ‘I’ll report you to your commanding officer!’

“I then saw two aircraft following each other across the sea…Both aircraft were flying very fast and low, as if they were chasing one another. Low flying was forbidden in a built-up area and I thought you silly boys, you will get into real trouble.

“Both aircraft then swung towards the hill near my billet on the seafront and disappeared from view. I sighed with relief and was just regaining my composure, when I heard a loud engine roar…when I looked up I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. On the wings of the plane flying in my direction were black crosses. It was a German Messerschmitt.

“I then heard the sound of gunfire followed by a different sound, the roar of another plane. It was one of ours.

“My goodness, a dogfight is going on right above my head, I now realised, as more gun-fire sent me into a cold sweat. Suddenly a hail of bullets hit the road not very far from where I was, and that’s when instinct took over. I dropped my bicycle in the middle of the road and quickly ran for cover. I saw a high garden wall and decided that the sooner I got behind it the better. It was a life-saving decision. I only just made it over the wall, as more bullets hit the road right at the spot where I had been standing only seconds before.”

In the book Eve recalls screaming up at the sky that she was too young to die, adding: “The reality came as quite a shock. My parents would have been devastated if I had died. I was still only 18, the war having started when I was just 15, when passing my school exams had been my priority. Remembering the summer of ‘39 that I’d spent without a care in the world, I now thought how utterly and unbelievably different my life was now to how it was back then.”

Talking to the ‘Advertiser & Times’ about ‘Brave Faces’, Eve said: “I am hoping my book will bring memories back for those who still remember the war years, and that the younger generation might benefit from understanding what it was like having to put on a brave face every day and just getting on with it despite the war.”

‘Brave Faces’ is available via Troubador, Amazon, Waterstones and The Book Depository - plus of course Eve will be signing copies at Waterstones, Lymington, between 11am and midday on Saturday.

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